If you asked me “What is the best way to bring a group of relatives strangers together and have them work as a team, share experiences, learn and have fun?”, my answer would be obvious, ” Organize a Foodskills Workshop!”
Granted, this is what I do for a living and am terribly biased. But I’ve heard it said that food is a great Connector; regardless of age, gender, income, or culture we all can relate to food. A large part of the Our Food Project’s work is the organization of Foodskills Workshops (sometimes called community kitchens). These workshops focus on preparation and preserving of food and topics can range from: cheese making to soup stalks from scratch, to seasonal cooking, to the basics of canning.
There are many toolkits out there that describe in detail the basics on what you’ll need to run a workshop like this. Check out these guides if you’re interested in material lists, timing tips and more: This one’s from the EAC and this one was our produced by our friends at Food First NFLD. Today though I wanted to share a few more tips on how to organize and facilitate an effective food workshop.
Tips from the Trade:
Start with a go-around. Begin every workshop with a round introductions and icebreaker question. Even if you suspect everyone in the room already knows each other, having everyone share a little about themselves sets the tone and will make your workshops feel more personal. One lesson I’ve learned and that has stuck with me, is the sooner someone speaks in a workshop, the more likely they are to participate, and speak up, throughout the workshop.
Grow food leaders. Rather than have the same person lead every workshop,
seek out local experts, and ask them to lead a workshop. I find people are happy to share their food skills, (especially when they don’t have to worry about the logistics of organizing the workshop!). This will not only bring a variety of different styles to your workshops but also helps to build leadership skills in your community.
Be prepared…but too much. The standard length of most of our workshops is 3hrs. I like to leave as much of the prep work (e.g. washing & cutting up veggies) for the participants to do during the workshop. Even though many will be experienced choppers, we can always learn new tips, like the fastest way to peal garlic, or more efficient way to cut an onion. That being said, waiting around for water to boil can be a real drag. Depending on the workshop, it might be worth baking that squash or boiling that pot of water before the workshops begins.
Time to eat. Leave time at the end to enjoy the fruits of your labour. This is often my favourite part of the workshop; sitting around a table together and tasting a bit of the pasta, soup, salsa or whatever it might be. It’s social and delicious. This is also a good moment to review the method; especially since many workshops involve small groups working on different parts of the process, this can be good time for a share back of what was done.
Take homes. Often there’s enough food at the end for participants to take some home. Make sure you come prepared to with reusable containers or tell participants to bring their own from home.
Evaluation! Often forgotten, yet so important. A good evaluation can help you refine your technique and get ideas for future workshop topics. Not to mention is often a requirement by funders. This can be as simple as a short survey at the end of the workshop. For more ideas on Evaluation, check out this toolkit.
Experts-not needed! Feeling like you’re not experienced enough to lead a workshop is something I think many of us feel. An important point to remember is there is no expectation that you be a trained chef, or professional canner. I like to begin my workshops by being honest with the group about my level of experience with a certain food skill and encouraging those that might have experience to please share. This helps that the pressure off. Workshops that are more of a 2-way exchange of knowledge rather than a lecture are always more fun!
Hopefully these tips have given you some insight and may inspire you to try and host a food workshop in your own community.
Written by Georgia McNeil, Community Food Coordinator in Cape Breton. You can contact Georgia directly at Georgia@ecologyaction.ca